BEIRUT (AP) — A group of U.S. congressmen held meetings Saturday with Lebanon’s top leaders during a fact-finding mission to the Middle East nation roiled by an unprecedented economic crisis.
The delegation is to report to President Joe Biden and the Congress and propose ways to help the Lebanese. The country’s new government, in place since September, has struggled to kick off reforms and negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.
The U.S. team includes Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, and also Republican Rep. Darin LaHood of Illinois, as well as Edward Gabriel, head of the Washington-based American Task Force for Lebanon. The three, who arrived Friday and are to spend three days in Lebanon, first met with President Michel Aoun.
Lebanon’s crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement. The international community has said it will only help the small nation once it implements wide reforms and tackles widespread corruption.
Gabriel told the local Al-Jadeed TV that the congressmen are in town “to see first hand” what is going on in Lebanon and that he hoped they would “come up with some new ideas” for ways the United States could help the Lebanese.
The delegation later met with Prime Minister Najib Mikati who thanked the U.S. for standing by Lebanon and for its continuous support to the Lebanese Armed Forces, his office said.
Lebanon’s economic meltdown began in late 2019 and has been made worse by political bickering between rival groups who have failed to start reforms despite the fact that the crisis has thrown three quarters of the country’s 6 million people, including a million Syrian refugees, into poverty.